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Supervising postgraduates brings the research and teaching aspects of an academic career together. To do it well, Postgraduate Supervision is demanding and challenging, requiring careful attention to details, policies, students’ needs and interests, as well as academic integrity and rigour. However, it can be exciting, rewarding and a wonderful learning experience for both the supervisors and their students.

June 2003, Vol. 6, No. 6 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Graduate Research and Supervision in the School of Design and Environment
Associate Professor Low Sui Pheng
Vice-Dean (Academic)
School of Design and Environment


This article briefly describes the measures adopted for graduate research and supervision in the School of Design and Environment (SDE) since June 2000. Among others, the measures serve to achieve the following objectives:

  • Ensure that the best interests of research students are met,

  • Ensure that the core competencies of the departments are built up over time, and

  • Ensure that faculty members are given the opportunities to develop their capabilities in graduate research supervision.

Research Topics

Research topics in SDE range widely from humanities and social sciences to science and engineering. Although applicants may propose their areas of research, measures are taken to ensure that the areas put forward match those of their potential supervisors’ so that our research students will in turn contribute towards the strengthening of the strategic focus and core competencies of the departments. All applicants are expected to be full-time candidates.

Broadening Exposure

SDE research students are also given maximum exposure to cutting-edge research in their areas of research, both locally and overseas. For example, research students in the joint PhD programme between the NUS Department of Building and the Technical University of Denmark are exposed to different climatic conditions in indoor environment and energy research.

Joint Supervision

Senior faculty members supervise PhD students and mentor junior faculty members (assistant professors who serve as members of the thesis committee). The arrangement safeguards the interests of the research students and provides opportunities for the assistant professors to learn about graduate research supervision from senior faculty members at the same time.

Like many other faculties and schools, SDE also faces intense international competition for good students from top overseas universities such as those in China. The school recognises that top Chinese students will come to NUS if their professors strongly encourage them to do so. Thus, SDE hopes to overcome the competition by implementing joint supervision between NUS professors and their Chinese counterparts who have recommended their own Chinese students to come to NUS. The Chinese professors effectively become a stakeholder in this arrangement. Besides, the possibility of joint publications in English journals (with their NUS PhD students and professors), which they would otherwise not publish, could be additional motivation.

Conference Presentation

SDE encourages and provides financial support for research students to present joint papers with their supervisors at established international conferences. Supervisors are advised to attend the conferences where their research students are making presentations to support them.

Research Seminars

Such seminars are regular features of the Departments of Architecture, Building and Real Estate where research students are expected to present their research design, methodologies and findings as well as share their experiences. Presentations are scheduled during the initial stages of research, after the PhD qualifying examination, as well as after the successful oral defence of the thesis. Such seminars are also good rehearsal platforms for the students before they make their formal presentations at international conferences.

Industry Sponsorship

Being a professional school, many of the topics undertaken by research students in SDE are inevitably related to practice-related problems confronting the industry. The school recognises that a greater synergy can be garnered through a closer alliance with the industry. From regular dialogues with major property developers and manufacturers of building products, the school has identified practice-related problems that the industry would like to solve. In such cases, SDE encourages the industry to provide funding for research scholarships and research projects that would specifically address the identified problems. Such strategic alliances help the school to source for more external funds to support more research students and help the industrial sponsors resolve their company-based research problems at the same time.

The Future

With entrepreneurial economic activities becoming increasingly more important in the new knowledge economy, strategic alliances with industries and companies will continue to gain increasing significance. It may be timely to explore how the traditional PhD route can be restructured to achieve the same scholarship rigour and yet, make more significant contributions to companies and industries concurrently.

It is believed that the philosophy and principles behind the Engineering Doctorate (EngD) introduced recently in the UK can be examined further in the restructuring of our PhD route. In essence, the objectives of the EngD are:

  • Development of innovative thinking, while tackling real industrial problems, and

  • Continual broadening, by gaining and applying new knowledge from a modular taught programme.

Depending on the nature of the research project, EngD candidates are expected to spend between 70–80% of their time at the premises of their collaborating companies. Training courses are tailored individually to their needs in order to develop a wider range of competencies in engineering business management as well as specialist technical subjects. Candidates are required to satisfy the requirements of the taught modules. Such candidates are expected to demonstrate innovation in the application of knowledge to the engineering business and make a significant contribution to the performance of the collaborating companies who sponsor them. The EngD is assessed by means of a mini-thesis as well as a portfolio that covers the key requirements for a Management Development module. In addition, the portfolio is built up over the period of the candidature under joint supervision by an academic supervisor as well as an industrial supervisor. It is therefore essential that candidates (or company employees as the case may be) ensure that their daily day work and EngD project work have as much similarities as possible.

Ideas highlighted in this article were collated from members of the School Management Committee over the past two years. The pointers in the last section were sourced from the Centre for Innovative Construction Engineering.

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Inside this issue
Improving the Medical Graduate Programme and Supervision of Postgraduate Students
Graduate Research and Supervision in the School of Design and Environment
Building a Graduate Studies Learning Community
Bibliographic Instruction: Search Strategy for Graduate Students
The Graduate Tutor Training Workshop in the Department of Mathematics